Welcome to the Creative Virtual blog! Here we cover all of the hot customer experience topics in mobile, social, web, IVR and so much more. We also share company announcements, details about upcoming events and give you a peek into what happens behind the scenes.

Our regular contributors have over 90 years of combined experience specifically with customer engagement, natural language virtual assistants and knowledge management. When you add in the experience of our guest authors and the other Creative Virtual team members who occasionally contribute, there is no better place to get expert insight.

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Customer Service Week Musings: How does a machine know if it’s wrong?

By Laura Ludmany, Knowledgebase Engineer

There are many comparisons dealing with the main differences between humans and machines. One of the recurring points is while humans have consciousness and morals, machines can only know what they are programmed to, hence they are not able to distinguish right from wrong unless they are provided data to make decisions based on that information. There have been many discussions on the self-awareness of robots, which is a topic as old as Artificial Intelligence, starting from Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics, continuing to the Turing test and nowadays AI ethics organisations.

One thing is commonly agreed – bots need to be ‘taught’ morals, and to achieve this there could be two approaches, both having their advantages and disadvantages. The first one contains a loose set of rules, but plenty of space for flexibility; this system could always reply to questions. However, it could also result in many false positives cases and could go wrong on many levels. The other would mean more rules and a narrower approach. The system could answer a limited number of queries, however, with very few or non-false judgements.

What does this mean from the customer service and customer experience (CX) view and for virtual agents answering real time customer queries? If we narrow down our conditions, bots would deliver the right answers at most times. However, they could not recognise many simple questions, making users frustrated. The same can happen with the loose set of conditions: the assistant would easily deliver answers but could misinterpret inputs, resulting again in annoyance.

To solve this problem, we must use a hybrid approach: an AI tool can only be trained appropriately with real-life user inputs. While we can add our well-established set of rules based on previous data and set a vague network of conditions, the bot will learn day-by-day by discovering new ways of referring to the same products or queries through user interactions. Half of a virtual assistant’s strength is its database, containing these sets of rules. The other half lies within its analytics, which is an often-overlooked feature. What else could be better training for a CX tool than the customers leaving feedback at the very time an answer was delivered? Conversation surveys are not only important to measure the performance of the tool. They are also crucial for our virtual assistants to be able to learn what is wrong and what is right.

Our approach at Creative Virtual to reporting is to follow the trends of ever-changing user behaviour. We offer traditional surveys, which measure if a specific answer was classified as helpful or not by the user and if it saved a call. Sometimes, the specific required action or transaction cannot be performed through self-service options and the customer must make a call, or else, the answer has been slightly overlooked and needs to be updated – for these cases there is a designated comment section, so users can express themselves freely.

We all know from personal experience, that we can’t always be bothered to fill out long or detailed surveys – we are on the go and just want to find the information we were looking for without spending extra time to leave feedback. This is typical user behaviour, and for this we came up with different options for our clients such as star ratings and thumbs up and down, keeping the free text box, to make the rating simpler for users. The solutions deployed are always dependent on the requirements and preferences of our clients, which are in line with the nature of their business and their website design. For example, financial organisations usually go with the traditional options for their customer-facing self-service tools, but internal deployments often have more creative user feedback options.

What if, during a conversation, a virtual assistant delivered the correct answer to five questions, but two answers advised the user to call the customer contact centre and one answer was slightly outdated? Does this rate as an unsuccessful conversation, due to three unhelpful answers? To solve this dilemma, we have End of Conversation Surveys, which ask customers to rate the whole conversation, on a scale to 1-10 and choose what they would have had done without the virtual assistant. As always, there is a free text box for further communication from the customer to the organisation. These surveys show high satisfaction levels as they measure the overall success of the conversation, which can have some flaws (just as in human-to-human interactions), but still can be rated pleasant and helpful.

Let’s take a step further – how can the virtual assistant learn if it was right or wrong if none of these surveys have been taken up by the user? Is this valuable data lost? Our Creative (Virtual) analytics team have levelled up their game and came up with a solution! During voice interactions, such as incoming calls to customer contact centres, there is a straightforward way to understand if the conversation wasn’t successful, even if it wasn’t stated explicitly, as the tone might change or the same questions might be repeated. But how can we rate a written communication with our customer? There has been a specific platform developed, which sits on the top of our previously described survey layers. This platform classifies the whole conversation, with a carefully weighed several-factor-system, which can be tailored to our client’s needs, containing factors such as if there has been more than one transaction, whether the last customer input was recognised by the virtual assistant, if there have been negative user responses recorded, etc.. The primary ‘hard’ indicators remain the user-filled surveys, so this is just a nice icing on the cake, as our mature deployments show over 80% of successful conversation rates.

With our proactive approach and multi-layer analytics tool sets, we can be sure that our virtual assistants will learn more and more about what is right and wrong, to increase the customer satisfaction level continuously. However, I think no machine will ever be able to answer all questions correctly, as this would mean that deployments have stopped being fed up-to-date real-life data. Our world is changing rapidly as are our user queries. These cannot be fully predicted ahead, just analysed and reacted to appropriately. As long as AI tools serve customer queries, they will always face unknown questions, hence they will never stop learning and rewriting their existing set of rules.

As we celebrate Customer Service Week this year, we need to recognise the role customers play in helping to teach our AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants right from wrong and the experts that know how to gather, analyse and incorporate that data to help train those tools. Check out our special buyer’s guide that explains why experience matters for using this hybrid approach to create reliable and always learning bots.

Harnessing Human and Machine During the Pandemic

By Rachel F Freeman, Operations Director

A direct quote of the explanatory theme for this Customer Service Week says: “The impact of events affecting the world today have changed the way in which companies and their employees engage with customers.”

Indeed this is true, and all of us in our businesses and in our personal lives can feel the effects of how services of all kinds have altered in ways ranging from barely discernible to completely different (filling out forms, having temperatures taken, tape and measurements of distance being assessed amidst a lot of Perspex dividers). A main thing that became apparent in call centre scenarios was that call wait times for an array of customer services were much longer and users still are advised in recorded messages that “due to Covid-19” call wait time may be impacted.

I can testify that I’ve never had to wait 25-30 minutes to speak to a representative for whatever service I needed before Spring 2020 but experienced that exact scenario at least four times in the past few months. Speaker phones have never been so handy so that one can do other tasks whilst being on hold for extended periods of time!

Cue the virtual agents, chatbots and virtual assistants. Now more than ever before it is a no brainer that online self-help tools that are available 24/7 should come into their own in this period of uncertainty and continued delays blamed on Covid. Self-help tools need not be subject to the same rules of quarantine which makes them more reliable when it is impossible to predict when humans will be available to handle and field queries based on who is in the office and who is self-isolating.

Now more than ever, in the spirit of seamless customer experience, let’s let the self-help tools do what they are designed to do. Let’s let them share the burden of the increasing pressure on call centre agents and take advantage of them working to their fullest potential. Let’s give the machines space to help, freedom to work whilst the humans that are healthy can spend time not only speaking to customers who truly need a human but also to check in from time to time on the accuracy of the responses of the virtual agent. A smart combination of self-help and human guidance creates confidence that the job will get done with the right tools.

We’re all being told to stay safe and be alert – so let’s work in parallel with the tools to help make that happen. We can enable more efficient customer service interactions whilst at the same time prioritising the health and well-being of both customers and employees.

Check out the Neutrino release of V-Person™ to learn how Creative Virtual is delivering some of the most up-to-date and seamless self-help tools available. Also download the ‘Conversational AI Trends 2020’ ebook from AI Time Journal for virtual agent success stories during the pandemic.

The way companies and their employees are engaging with customers may have changed significantly this year, but with the right tools a positive, seamless experience is possible. This Customer Service Week let’s celebrate both the people and the technology that are delivering safe and seamless customer support in this period of uncertainty.

Customer Experience: It’s all about long-term relationships

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

CX Day and Customer Service Week this year, like everything else, is held with the dark cloud of the pandemic hanging over us. Customer experience has always been a key competitive differentiator, and this has never been more apparent than this year. It’s a true saying that when the chips are down you find out who your true friends are. As the CEO of Creative Virtual, I’ve been on two sides on this equation during these tough times: supporting our customers and being a customer myself.

Customer experience is a much-debated subject of course, but the thing that’s often missing from these debates is the importance of building strong customer partnerships that can stand the test of time. Creative Virtual is fortunate to have many long-term customers: one of our first customers has been with us since the formation of the company (nearly 17 years ago!). Having a great team, who are empowered to make decisions in the best interests of the customer, is the main attribute for a long-term partnership. Being flexible, listening and supporting our customers as they face their own challenges, and taking a longer-term perspective, is an inherent part of our company culture.

I’m always studying how other companies treat their customers, and there’s no better way than being a customer yourself. The pandemic has brought out the best, and the worst, in the customer experiences that myself or people I know have encountered. Like all of us, I’ve been truly inspired and humbled by our key workers. The dedication and positivity from staff at the local Waitrose, for example, has been a breath of fresh air (service with a smile!). There are some bank and landlord experiences that I’ve heard about that have been pretty bad. And these cases are particularly beguiling when there’s been a long-term relationship in place and the bank/landlord has turned their back in a moment of need. Purely from a business perspective, these actions are completely counterproductive as this often leads to a loss of business.

Today much of the customer experience is automated, and when I consider what makes our chatbot/ virtual agent and live chat technology successful, it’s taking that long-term view. Building the right foundations at the beginning means the technology can be easily adapted as business priorities change and can be readily scaled up as required. This was particularly put to the test during the height of the pandemic when our customers saw a dramatic increase in virtual agent transactions and required quick updates to the chatbot/ virtual agent content. Taking a long-term perspective is just as important for chabots/ virtual agents as it is for human relations!

If you’re planning to add a chatbot virtual agent to your CX strategy to help improve your customer relationships, you’ll want to download this whitepaper: Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor: Forget the Technology & Focus on Experience. The guide provides insights from industry experts on how having a strong partnership with your technology vendor sets your self-service solution up for long-term success.

As you celebrate CX Day and Customer Service Week this year, consider the approach you are taking with your customer experience strategy. Are you striving to build strong, long-term customer partnerships? Are you empowering your employees to make decisions to strengthen those customer relationships? Are you taking a long-term view to achieve success with automated CX tools?

Customer experience is all about long-term relationships – and that’s never been more important than right now. When the chips are down, are you a reliable partner for your customers?

Two Thumbs Up for Customer Service Week

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Happy Customer Service Week! Today we kick off the annual week-long international celebration of the importance of customer service, the people who deliver that service and the impact it has on successful business practices. 2020 has brought new customer service challenges for companies and altered the way customers engage with businesses, perhaps forever. Delivering service that gets two thumbs up from customers has been – and continues to be – no easy feat!

This is the fifth year I’ve put together a blog post roundup to start off Customer Service Week, and it might just be the most important one yet. The global pandemic has put digital transformation projects on the fast-track for many organisations, including digital customer service initiatives. Having expert insights, resources and industry stats is important for getting those strategies right. Here are some of the key blog posts on customer support we’ve shared over the past year that can help you with improving and extending the customer service you provide:

  • Delivering Self-Service During the COVID-10 Uncertainty, Part 1: Supporting Customers – COVID-19 has put organisations under immense pressure to deliver quality service and support over digital channels. This three-part blog series explores the business value of using a chatbot or virtual agent to provide easy-to-use self-service, starting with supporting customers. Also take a look at Part 2: Supporting Contact Centre Agents and Part 3: Supporting Employees.
  • Helping Financial Organisations Deliver 24/7 Customer Support: Part 1 and Part 2 – This two-part blog series dives into the real experiences of financial organisations as they took quick action to keep the information they were providing to customers up-to-date during a period of fast-paced changes. They used their existing virtual agent implementations both to analyse customer needs and deliver 24/7 support for better customer service.
  • Virtual Agents in 2020: Usage Spikes and the Banking Sector – Starting in late February and early March, Creative Virtual saw a spike in virtual agent traffic that surpassed anything the company had seen in over 16 years of being in the industry. By the end of the first week in July, those virtual agents had already recorded about 75% of the total transactions completed the previous year. While some sectors saw a return to more normal usage after the initial spike, the Banking sector continued to see increased usage compared with the first two months of 2020.
  • A New Ebook and a Conversational AI Success Story During Times of Pandemic – In August, AI Time Journal published a new ebook, Conversational AI Trends 2020, exploring the rapid advances in conversational AI technologies and the new applications and use cases emerging across industries. The ebook also covered several conversational AI success stories, including one telling how an international financial services group’s virtual agent rose to the challenges of customer support during the pandemic.
  • The Chatbot & Virtual Agent Experts Have Spoken: Experience Matters – If you are considering virtual agent or chatbot options and providers, then you will benefit from the expertise of this group of industry insiders. Together they offer 83 years of experience in a field that has only been commercially viable for about two decades. Learn about the six areas of experience that are necessary for the success of a conversational self-help tool.
  • APAC Contact Centres Embracing AI and Virtual Agent Technologies – There has been a shift in the APAC region as an increasing number of organisations look to use AI and virtual agents within the human customer service area of their CX strategies to support contact centre agents, relationship managers and other employees. Contact centres need to be prepared for the impact of new technologies on their operations, structure and workload.
  • Hindsight May be 20/20 But CX Needs a 20/20 Vision – Customers are expecting more from the companies they give their business to, and that includes effective service across touchpoints. Just as each company is unique, so should be their chatbot, virtual agent and live chat strategy. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that guarantees success.
  • A Successful Self-Service Strategy Requires Looking at the Bigger Picture – While companies needing to implement a new self-service solution or upgrade an existing one are feeling a sense of urgency, they still need to be thoughtful about the technology they select and how it is implemented. Having a successful self-service strategy requires looking at the bigger picture of your overall customer service and experience to avoid frustrating customers with a disjointed, unhelpful experience.
  • Tips for Deploying AI Chatbots & Virtual Agents – Chatbots, smart help, virtual assistants, virtual agents, conversational AI – there are lots of names for this automated, self-service technology being used today. Whatever you call it, the objective for including it as part of your customer service strategy is to deliver quick, easy access to information. Selecting and deploying the right technology for your company is key to achieving success.
  • Out with the Old and in with AI for a Better Contact Centre – A ContactBabel customer service survey found business leaders agreed that AI will be important to the future of the contact centre. While long-established customer communication channels haven’t disappeared, companies need to look to new technologies to help them support those channels in a better and more cost-effective way.

 

The Chatbot & Virtual Agent Experts Have Spoken: Experience Matters

By Rachel F Freeman, Operations Director & Laura Ludmany, Knowledgebase Engineer

Whitepapers are designed to be plain-speaking and informative documents spanning an array of subjects. At Creative Virtual, whitepapers are not created too often as they hold a special place in our repository of resources since they offer information that stays valid for a much longer time than other documents. We write them as valuable reference points which can be reviewed when required.

We take great pleasure in introducing this newly created whitepaper from Creative Virtual as it has a lot of straight talk about one of our favourite subjects: user experience in the realm of self-help tools. The insight and intel our Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor: Forget the Technology & Focus on Experience contains spans the width and breadth of the company: sales, marketing, technical and not least the operations team, some of who contributed by submitting their hottest and most relevant tips.

Where else can you find a paper that consolidates industry understanding and expertise from a group of people with a combined 83 years of experience in a field that has only been viable, commercially, for about the past 20?!

In addition to contributions from both of us, the whitepaper also includes insights from Claudio Chico, Rachael Needham, Len Power, Maria Ward, Rob Foster, Peter Studd, Ridhi Mathur and Mandy Reed. We drew from our extensive experience in the virtual agent and chatbot field to explore six areas of experience that are necessary for success. For example, we touch on the importance of skill in building a strong business case, integrating with other systems and technologies, creating the right user experience and identifying future developments.

We were so glad to contribute to this guide as it really brings the whole team closer to the readers. Having that personal touch makes a difference and helps to make the technology as well as industry jargon and terms more understandable. Having to choose a self-service solution can be a daunting task – there are so many industry-specific, and often even provider-specific expressions (which usually all mean pretty much the same thing!), that during your search, you might just feel even more confused than before you started. Demo calls might have the same effect, especially if you need to pass on the gained information to your team.

It helps to have clear, short and objective guides to help with your selection process – our 7-page long whitepaper is a perfect example of this. AI tools don’t need to be complicated and overwhelming if you go with the right team who can make things simple and easily understandable for you.

For example, we’ve found in our personal experience that as we go through the deployment and content curation processes clients, especially those who are new to self-service solutions, often find somewhat abstract our third area covered in the whitepaper: Experience with building and deploying successful solutions. To them, customer behaviour analysis and conversation flows are mysterious things and so they find it difficult to identify and deliver complex user journeys.

For an experienced virtual agent team, this is a typical case when a picture, or in this instance one demo flow, is worth a thousand words. Once we create a prototype flow for our customers, they are able to visualize their content flows and get quickly into the swing of things, supplying us new journeys and loops proactively. This is the sort of invaluable consultation experience you will receive when you work with the right virtual agent vendor.

The right team will also help you with analysing your virtual agent or chatbot’s usage to help you identify some quick wins. For example, for a new project we’ve been recently working on, our analysis enabled us to suggest creating new structured conversation flows by linking together existing content. This meant the client did not have to provide any new content, yet the user experience and their specific KPIs (key performance indicators) were improved significantly. It is personalised recommendations like this that enable you to get the most from your self-service tool, and that only happens when you work with a provider that builds a close relationship with your company and team.

virtual agent & chatbot guideWe encourage you to take a look at the tips and nuggets of wisdom from a dynamic and accomplished group of people on the Creative Virtual team who know their stuff and are happy to share it. We hope you find it useful as reference as you consider self-help tool options and providers. We may be a little biased, but we firmly believe you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better and well-informed source!

Download your copy of our Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor: Forget the Technology & Focus on Experience right now! Don’t forget you can always request more information or your own expert consultation by contacting us here.

A New Ebook and a Conversational AI Success Story During Times of Pandemic

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

We have all been facing new personal, professional and community challenges this year as we continue to deal with the harsh impacts of a global pandemic. At Creative Virtual, the team has been working hard to help our customers with their challenges related to delivering quality customer and employee self-service as information and needs change quickly. So, when AI Time Journal approached us to contribute to their ebook featuring ‘Conversational AI Success Stories During Times of Pandemic,’ it was a no-brainer for us to take part.

The new ebook, Conversational AI Trends 2020, takes a look at the rapid advances in conversational AI technologies and the new applications and use cases emerging across industries. Through a series of interviews with industry experts and innovators, the AI Time Journal Editors dive into current conversational AI trends and predictions for the future. Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO of Creative Virtual, was one of the experts interviewed and made this important observation:

“Organisations have realised the need to have and/or work with people skilled specifically in this technology to implement successful projects – a trend that’s being magnified by the current global pandemic. The increased focus on digital experiences and sudden spike in usage of conversational AI tools have highlighted how important this expertise is to development, maintenance and expansion of projects.”

That need for skill and expertise is reflected in the conversational AI success stories featured in the final section of the ebook. The first success story tells how an international financial services group’s V-Person™ virtual agent is rising to the challenges of customer support during the pandemic.

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the world in early 2020 and restrictions were put in place, this international financial services group faced the same challenges as many other businesses: the closing of physical locations, new guidelines to keep contact centre agents safe and rapidly changing information. While the organisation’s V-Person virtual agent had been a key part of their customer support strategy for many years, it came to the forefront during this time, becoming their go-to method of communicating with customers.

The quickest way to update information

Accessing the most recent information was important to customers to help them make sound financial decisions during an uncertain time. Providing that information was paramount for this financial services group but meant they had to have a way to keep content up-to-date as the government issued new programmes and schemes, regulations and processes changed, and pandemic restrictions evolved.

The organisation discovered that their virtual agent was the best way to keep up with rapid changes and deliver accurate information to customers. The process to update content within the virtual agent was quicker and easier than updating content on their website, allowing them to make as many changes as needed while minimising the amount of time the team spent actioning those changes.

The support needed for a transitioning call centre

Restrictions and guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19 meant it could no longer be business-as-usual for the organisation’s call centre. As the call centre dealt with rotating shifts and transitioning to a new way of working, they faced a period of having fewer agents available to deal with a rising volume of customer queries. To help relieve pressure from live agents, they began to proactively direct customers to self-serve through their virtual agent.

Since the virtual agent could provide the most updated information available, this approach was a win-win for customers and the call centre. Customers appreciated being able to quickly find answers to their questions without the hassle of making a call and dealing with long hold times. Call centre agents benefited from fewer calls which gave them more time to help customers with complex issues or who preferred to discuss their question with a live agent.

The right collaboration for a better CX

In the past, the team responsible for keeping the virtual agent’s content updated would need to reach out to the call centre for input. Now call centre teams are actively providing feedback and new content to add based on incoming calls from customers. This collaboration is enabling the organisation to keep their virtual agent performing well and delivering accurate answers to customers’ most pressing questions.

During the 3-4-month period of widespread shutdowns and stay-at-home orders, the financial services group saw their virtual agent traffic double and then nearly triple. Even after those large peaks, usage of the virtual agent continues to be greater than usual with high customer satisfaction scores.

While others struggled with their CX, this financial services organisation recognised the potential of their virtual agent and successfully pushed it to the forefront of their strategy.

Download a full copy of the Conversational AI Trends 2020 ebook for a complete look at highlighted industry trends, insights and success stories. You can also request a live demo with a member of the Creative Virtual team to learn more about our V-Person virtual agent, chatbot and live chat solutions and see them in action.

A big thank you to Martin Russo and the team at AI Time Journal for inviting us to take part in this ebook!

Finding a Clear Path Forward for Digital Customer Experience Priorities

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

It’s the age-old philosophical question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

A question that should be easier for companies to answer – and one that has become increasingly important this year: If your customers expect support on digital channels and you aren’t there to provide it, do you lose those customers to competitors who are?

A new survey conducted by Econsultancy and Marketing Week with marketers around the world found that, among customer-facing organisations with £50 million or more in annual revenue, 63% of respondents said they observed a “strong trend” of consumers adopting digital features more quickly as a result of COVID-19. An additional 33% saw “some trend’ of this happening.

Creative Virtual’s V-Person™ virtual agents and chatbots certainly experienced this trend, setting a record-breaking spike in usage during the first half of 2020. Using these digital self-service tools gave customers an easy way to find the most up-to-date information quickly during a time when contact centres were struggling with long hold and response times, reduced staffing and rapidly changing situations.

Often this trend towards using digital channels has been linked to Millennials and younger generations. However, the Econsultancy and Marketing Week survey found 40% of participants had observed a “strong trend” and 55% had observed “some trend” towards digital adoption among older consumers. This further highlights the importance of, and makes a stronger case for, digital transformation within organisations.

Regardless of whether this move to digital options is due to customer preference or out of necessity – physical locations closed, contact centres inundated, etc. – smart organisations know they need to pay attention and take action to support customers where they are. Digital customer experience (CX) projects can feel overwhelming – a massive undertaking without a clear path forward – during this time when so much seems overwhelming and uncertain.

Forrester analyst Judy Weader talks about CX prioritisation in a recent blog post as an important way for companies to make sound decisions. Not having a structured, consistent approach to prioritisation can lead to making poor choices on where to apply budget and staff, wasting critical time and under-delivering for customers. To help focus efforts and keep from being overwhelmed, Judy recommends prioritisation of CX improvement projects should be a conscious action, based on fact, and grounded in what matters most.

Some organisations may have actioned decisions quickly as a result of COVID-19, moving forward with digital projects initially thought to be temporary solutions to a temporary situation. Those projects should be re-examined and potentially prioritised as more permanent initiatives. Now that customers have experienced the convenience of digital tools and features, your CX might need more of a digital focus to give them the options and support expected on those channels.

If you are considering adding a chatbot or virtual agent to your list of CX priorities, the on-demand webinar Tips for Deploying AI Chatbots & Virtual Agents is a useful resource. The webinar covers questions to ask when adding a self-service solution to your digital CX strategy, tips for selecting the right technology and a series of demonstrations showcasing live implementations across a variety of customer touchpoints.

As digital adoption among consumers across all age groups continues to trend upwards, you must take the proper steps to prioritise and focus your efforts to find the best way forward for your company and your customers. If you aren’t providing the digital tools and support customers expect and need, chances are they will leave you for a competitor that does.

Changing Digital Expectations and CX Trends in 2020

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

As with many other aspects of life and business, customer experience trends and expectations have been greatly impacted by the global health crisis this year. The closing of physical store and office locations, restrictions on in-person activities, new guidelines to keep contact centre agents safe, rapidly changing information – these challenges and disruptions to business-as-usual have forced organisations to adapt quickly and re-evaluate the needs of their customers.

CX Network’s The Global State of Customer Experience 2020 report breaks down insights from customer experience (CX) experts, looking at the opportunities and hurdles over the first half of 2020 as well as forecasts for the remainder of the year. Survey respondents’ observations about customer behaviour present a very telling story about the challenges of CX today:

  • 68% strongly believe that expectations from customers are rising
  • 52% believe customers are more willing than ever to switch brands if unsatisfied
  • 49% believe there are clear trends in customer segments that prefer certain contact channels
  • 47% believe it is getting harder to please customers
  • 43% believe that customers are more impatient than ever before

For years there have been predictions about when CX will overtake other factors, such as price and product, to become the number one way companies differentiate themselves from competitors or when CX will become the most important consideration for customers when making purchasing decisions. Regardless of whether we’ve reached that point, businesses can’t ignore the facts that customer expectations are rising and that failing to make changes to meet those expectations negatively impacts customer retention and spending.

The global pandemic that the world is dealing with right now has further shone a spotlight on CX, particularly on the importance of a quality digital experience. It should come as no surprise that in CX Networks’ survey, digital transformation and digital customer experience ranked high in responses from CX practitioners, solution providers and industry commenters when asked about top trends.

2020 cx trends

Organisations that already had a focus on their digital CX prior to the start of 2020 had an advantage as they adapted to COVID-19 related restrictions and changes. For example, those with existing virtual agents or chatbots were able to relieve pressure from their contact centre by proactively encouraging customers to self-serve. Branded virtual agents around the world saw a massive spike in usage during the first half of the year, further proof of the importance of digital customer care.

The survey also asked participants about challenges companies are facing when trying to close the gap between customer expectations and the reality of the experiences being delivered. ‘Building a customer-first culture’ was in the top three responses for all three groups and ‘Siloed customer data’ also ranked high in the answers selected.

2020 cx challenges

Both of those challenges can directly impact the creation and success of digital transformations and digital customer experience strategies. Having a customer-centric culture is essential for selecting and implementing the right digital changes and tools to address the real needs and preferences of customers. However, achieving success can also be derailed by having siloed customer data, incomplete customer profiles and disconnected customer experiences. Creating a single source of truth for customer data requires time and resources but is a necessary and worthwhile investment to create seamless, omnichannel customer engagement.

While it’s impossible to know exactly what the future holds for customers and businesses, what has become clear is that delivering positive digital and self-service experiences is going to continue to be important to a company’s bottom line. Check out this three-part blog series for more insights and tips:

As customer expectations and preferences continue to evolve, smart organisations will evolve with them. They will find ways to meet customers where they are, whether that be in-person or on digital channels.

Virtual Agents in 2020: Usage Spikes and the Banking Sector

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

There have been lots of discussions, articles and analyst deep dives into companies’ digital transformations being driven or accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated shutdowns and mitigation efforts. Many individuals have also undergone a digital transformation of sorts in their own lives, relying more on options such as FaceTime and Zoom to keep in touch with family, friends and work colleagues and increasing time spent on social media and mobile messaging apps. These digital changes in behaviour have, as you’d expect, also impacted the interactions individuals are having with businesses.

Back in April I took a look at the impressive spike in virtual agent traffic starting in late February and early March that surpassed anything Creative Virtual had seen in over 16 years of being in the industry. By 12 April 2020, those virtual agents had reached nearly 50% of the total traffic they had recorded for all of 2019 despite being only about a quarter of the way through the year.

Now that we have reached the halfway point of the year, I was curious to take another look at our virtual agent traffic and once again enlisted the help of my colleague and analyst guru, Lester Lane. When we crunched the numbers, we discovered that those virtual agents have now recorded approximately 75% of the total transactions from last year and are well on their way to a record-breaking 2020. This is mostly due to a sustained increase of traffic through the rest of April and much of May. Towards the end of May, we started to see a drop-off to more average traffic levels as you can see from the usage of the self-service virtual agents included in the graph below.

virtual agent usage

Looking at overall traffic figures gives insights into general trends, but it’s also interesting to dive a bit deeper into individual industry sectors. At Creative Virtual, financial services is one of our biggest industries and one that our team has extensive expertise in collaborating with on virtual agent solutions. In fact, our very first enterprise customer was a large financial services group – and they are still a customer today! (Side note: My colleague Laura Ludmany wrote a great two-part blog series about helping financial organisations deliver customer support during the coronavirus crisis – check out Part 1 here and Part 2 here if you haven’t already.)

When we break down the total traffic figures into a handful of sectors, we see that they all experienced a spike in March and April before most levelled off a bit. However, the Banking sector has continued to see increased usage throughout May, June and the first week of July compared with the first two months of 2020.

virtual agent usage

This sustained increase for the Banking industry isn’t a surprise given the essential nature of many banking activities combined with the temporary closure of branches and people staying home. More people were forced to do their banking online – perhaps for the first time – and took advantage of the instant self-help offered by virtual agent tools on websites and in banking apps. Plus, there was the added support needed for various government schemes and programmes. One of our banking customers’ virtual agent set a new record for highest number of saved calls in April and then doubled April’s total usage in May.

I’m curious to continue to watch how virtual agent traffic fluctuates as coronavirus-related restrictions change. Banks tend to be early indicators of upcoming general trends, so it may be worth noting the spike of activity at the beginning of July. Will there be another surge as companies and their customers experience further digital transformations? Only time will tell.

If your company is looking to add an AI chatbot or virtual agent to your customer service strategy or is struggling with a self-service tool that can’t meet increased demand from users, you’ll want to take a look at the Neutrino release of V-Person™. Introduced to the market in June, Neutrino provides the right tools and guidance to deploy conversational self-service quickly, easily and at large scale.

Introducing the Conversational AI Industry’s Smartest Solution Yet: The Neutrino Release of V-Person™

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Today I’m proud to be sharing Creative Virtual’s introduction of the Neutrino release of V-Person™, our innovative virtual agent and chatbot technology. This release delivers the perfect combination of conversational AI, orchestration tools and industry expertise to enable organisations to create customer and employee conversations. It brings together humans and artificial intelligence (AI) with powerful integration options and easy-to-manage workflows for the industry’s smartest solution yet.

When I first founded Creative Virtual in late 2003, chatbot and virtual agent technology was still very new in the customer service space. The solutions we were building were very basic and lacked the power of AI and machine comprehension that we have today. It’s been exciting to lead a company that’s instrumental in advancing the technology and its applications for customer and employee engagement.

As the virtual agent and live chat market continues to evolve, one constant for us at Creative Virtual is our tradition of innovation. However, we don’t focus on innovation simply for the sake of being able to say we have something shiny and new. We innovate around the real needs of organisations and their customer and employee experience goals. Our Neutrino release of V-Person is a great example of this commitment.

Several years ago, there was a sudden burst of interest in chatbots and virtual agents along with ways AI could be used for customer support. This has led to a chatbot, virtual agent and live chat market saturated with inexperienced vendors and ineffective technologies that are leaving companies and their customers frustrated. Some organisations are learning the hard way that not all chatbot and virtual agent solutions are created equal.

v-person neutrino releaseNeutrino addresses and removes the frustrations caused by those poor performing vendors and technologies by combining:

  • V-Person – Our conversational virtual agent and chatbot technology brings together humans and AI for personalised, smart self-help.
  • V-Portal™ – Our powerful orchestration platform is the most functional virtual agent, chatbot and live chat management platform in the market today.
  • Consultation & guidance – Our experienced global team delivers localised support, international insights and best practice expertise.

Having the information your customers and employees need means little if they aren’t able to access it quickly and efficiently to find answers to questions and troubleshoot problems. With Neutrino, you can leverage your company’s existing knowledge to power chatbot, virtual agent and live chat solutions for improved customer and employee experiences.

We can also use your live chat and contact centre transcripts, search inputs and existing chatbot projects to jumpstart your solution. By combining your data with our Transcript Analysis Tool and sector-specific intent libraries, the Creative Virtual team can:

  • Identify what can be automated to help build your business case
  • Build and deploy your system quickly and easily
  • Train your virtual agent for continued improvement

This means you can deploy conversational self-service quickly and easily, creating conversations with customers and employees across touchpoints in a seamless, personalised way and at large scale. Providing quality support on digital channels has never been more important than it is right now as we all adjust to fewer in-person interactions and a larger remote workforce.

The reason our Neutrino release is the industry’s smartest solution yet really comes down to the experience and expertise of the global Creative Virtual team. Everything, from the updating of our company roadmap to the development of new features and functionality to the implementation and optimisation of end user solutions, hinges on our team’s deep understanding of the technology and extensive experience in the industry. There is no substitute for that expertise when it comes to delivering industry-leading products and successful solutions.

Check out the Get to know the Neutrino release of V-Person page to learn more, download the release overview, read what some of our current customers and partners say about working with us, and request your own live demo.